It was a long time ago when I wrote my first program as a professional developer, but I still remember the requirement. The requirement was to write a program for generation of a report from the system with some credit card details for a business scenario and guess what, it was in COBOL.
Now, I read blogs by programmers working on some new programming languages, that talk about “COBOL is dead”, “No COBOL renaissance” and “Cobol is a programming relic of enterprise system”, etc. After reading such blogs I can’t help but wonder, Isn’t this similar to a teenager saying that Justin Bieber or Katy Perry or whatever kids are listening to these days are better than the old classics. Well, everyone is entitled to their opinions. I also agree that some of these new tunes are catchy and they are composed keeping the current audience and their taste in mind, but does that mean the old classics are nothing but a pile of junk.
Similarly, writing a code in COBOL might not be the coolest thing in the campus anymore, but it sure isn’t worthless. Certainly COBOL doesn’t need anyone to defend it. It was there before I started my studies and I’m pretty sure it’ll still be there after I hang up my boots. So all I want to understand, why is there a change in perception? My guess, it is “Out of sight, out of mind”.
In the last two decades we have witnessed incredible advancement in programming languages. Mobile and social networking revolution have brought software technologies closer to us. Now they are a part of our day to day routine and we see them work for us to make our life better and simpler.
Think about the first thing that you see every day when you wake-up. It is probably your smart phone. With new functions and innovations coming in every day, it’s difficult not to get awed by the power of these softwares that run it. At the same time, we don’t see COBOL helping us to wakeup or plan our day or keep us updated about social circle and so on. So understandably we find ourselves more impressed by these new programming languages when compared to COBOL. Therefore to appreciate the true importance of COBOL in the current world, first we need to imagine a world without it.
Let me share with you a day of my life on which COBOL was on a vacation…
It was a normal weekday or at least it started as one. I woke up and realized that I overslept. Now I had to get to work fast. Already I had received one warning from my Boss this week, I couldn’t afford another incident in the same week. I got ready quickly and jumped into my car. As soon as I started my car, a beep came from the fuel Indicator; DTE (distance to empty): 12 KMs.
I had to stop on my way for gas. I drove as fast as I could and got to the nearest gas station. Luckily there was no queue. I got out of the car, swiped my credit card but it got declined. I swiped it again – no luck. I tried my debit card next, again in vain. I gave the station attendant a puzzled look. He told me that the POS machines were down since midnight, so I needed to pay by cash.
I knew there was an ATM nearby. I thought to myself, “With a little luck I can still make it in time, all I need to do is take a shortcut”.
I ran to that ATM. There was a guy inside, so I had to wait for my turn. He was taking unexpectedly long time. I started feeling restless. Any withdrawal shouldn’t take more than a minute, what was taking him so long? Finally he came out and it was my turn. But on his way out, he murmured “Not working”.
I hoped I had heard him wrong. But when I stepped inside and dipped my card, a message flashed on the screen “Out of Service”. I almost screamed in frustration. First time I actually realized the importance of cards in our life. It could be a Debit or a credit or a Pre-paid. But no doubt that since their arrival, life had become less complicated.
The next gas station was 10kms away. I didn’t have time to try my luck at the next gas station. So I started working on Plan B. There was a railway station nearby. “I could get there in time, catch a train, get down after 5 stops and walk the remaining distance to my office”. That seemed to be a good plan. So I drove down to the railway station, parked my car and ran to catch a train.
As luck would have it, there was a long queue at the access control gates. I had read that NFC card readers had been implemented at every station, so that people could tap their electronic ticket cards and get inside quickly. But that day there was a long queue at the access control gate and I was surprised to see a railway officer checking physical paper tickets at the entry. I asked the guy standing in front of me. He said the ticketing systems were down since midnight. So everybody had to buy a paper ticket from ticket counter by paying cash only. I could see a long queue at the Ticket counter as well. By this time I had realized there was no way of reaching office in time. But there seemed to be a wide spread problem with cards and transaction systems. This could be an excuse for showing up late.
Finally after 15 minutes of wait in the ticket queue and 20 minutes in the entry queue, I was at the platform waiting for my train. I had not got time to go through morning headlines, so I opened the newsfeed on my smartphone. After going through the first news article, I realized that the problem was bigger than what I had guessed.
As per the news article, since morning 92 out of top 100 banks were unable to process any transactions electronically. Even they could not process any withdrawals or deposits at their branches. It was a panic situation everywhere. There were also some unconfirmed reports that the financial data available with the banks might be lost forever. This was having a catastrophic effect on the share market. The market index had gone down drastically since the market opened.
Suddenly my problem of getting to work in time started looking small and insignificant.
After a wait for another 10 minutes at the platform, a train arrived. I boarded the train, took a seat and continued with my newsfeeds. After 40 Minutes the train stopped at my destination station. I got down and started walking to my office.
To be continued….